A word of advice to all those planning on seeing the Broadway hit musical Hadestown for the first time. Brush up on your Greek mythology. Or, to make things even simpler, Google the words Hermes, Persephone, Orpheus and Eurydice.
Follow my instructions and they will give you a template for understanding the narrative behind music, lyrics and book writer, Anais Mitchell’s ingenious wonder work.
Hadestown Musical in Pittsburgh
With its succession of jazz, blues and dreamy ballads, the touring production now at Pittsburgh’s Benedum Center, is a musical whirlwind buttressed by a small but effective and talented ensemble of players. Watch and listen for the spotlighted trombone solo, one of many musical highlights in the Hadestown experience.
At the onset, one by one, the entire cast of nearly a dozen files on stage. Soon, Nathan Lee Graham as Hermes, messenger of the gods and the musical’s unacknowledged master of ceremonies, leads the way with some snappy quips and a bit of sartorial flash. Thus begins a smooth, dreamlike flow of the retelling of an ancient tale done with a modern spin.
Just as in the original Greek, the tale’s main characters are Orpheus (Chibueze Ihuoma) and Eurydice (Hannah Whitley). Their meeting sparks a love interest in Orpheus, who intends to woo the homeless but nevertheless headstrong maiden with an irresistible song.
The melody, by the way, is also intended to bring back spring in the form of Persephone (Lara Gordon) who’s married to Hades (Matthew Patrick Quinn), a possessive sort who keeps his wife sequestered in his dark and dreary underground kingdom six months each year. Her absence on Earth is what causes the seasons to chill from summer to fall to winter, until she’s freed each spring, bringing back the rebirth of the natural world.
Controlling and manipulating lives are the Fates, a trio of female demigoddesses, played by Dominique Kempf, Belen Moyano and Nyla Watson. They’re seen throughout musical, not only providing some of the best musical harmonies in songs like “Word to the Wise” and “Nothing Changes” but also perform some of choreographer, David Nuemann’s spirited footwork with a deceptive ease.
Speaking of choreography, the entire musical is extremely movement coordinated and executed in exemplary fashion. To say that Hadestown is dynamic hits the nail on the head. How the cast manages to avoid collisions and choreographic fender-benders is a sight to behold.
Acting as a modern day Greek chorus, Jordan Bollwerk, Lindsay Hailes, Courtney Lauster, Eddie Noel Rodriguez and Jamari Johnson Williams can not only dance but sing their way as minor characters with a major impact.
Getting back to the story line, Orpheus wins Eurydice over, but the latter, enmeshed in poverty and in dire straits accepts Hades offer to free her of her troubles by joining him underground. Naturally, the naïve but love-smitten Orpheus makes a decision to follow her and rescue her from her abductor.
With nothing more than his lyre and song to enchant the perils along the underground path, he manages to arrive at his destination, which infuriates the proud Hades.
Estranged from his wife Persephone, he nevertheless is enchanted by Orpheus’ song, which rekindles his earlier love for his wife. Persuaded to allow Eurydice to leave his underground kingdom, he imposes on the now free-to-go couple one stipulation – that Eurydice must follow Orpheus out of Hades and that Orpheus must never look back to see if she’s still there. Otherwise, the deal would be off and Eurydice would not be allowed to continue on.
Just as in the Biblical story of Lot’s wife, who turned back to look at the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and was turned into a pillar of salt, Orpheus failed to keep his part of the bargain and so the musical ends on a sad, sodden note.
Or does it? There is a redemptive note introduced by Hermes summation which leads to one of the production’s loveliest songs, one almost guaranteed to bring a tear or two to your eyes.
As Orpheus, Ihuoma has the requisite voice of the musical enchanter, a falsetto that reminds me of Sam Smith. Whitley as Eurydice is a stark contrast to her simpler-minded suitor. She’s tough and brazen but with a voice that has an enchanting quality all its own.
Amazing Matthew Patrick Quinn as Hades has a spellbinding bass-baritone that cuts through the air with an almost metallic quality. As his wife, Perephone, Lara Gordon cuts a regal figure, one that seems to say don’t tread on me or else bear the consequences.
Nathan Lee Graham as Hermes has a the slinky movements of a cat as he maneuvers his lean body across the stage and allows the sometimes heated frenzy of the production to cool down a bit with his smooth as silk story telling interludes.
Director Rachel Chavkin brings the story line to life and caps off the roster of theatrical contributors to what I consider an artistic masterpiece.
Hadestown is at the Benedum Center, Downtown Pittsburgh through November 20. Phone 412-456-666 for tickets.
About the Author
Dave Zuchowski has been writing about theater and doing theater reviews for more than three decades. His reviews have appeared in the Greensburg Tribune-Review (now the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review), the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Erie Times, the New Castle News, In Pittsburgh, and The Chautauquan Daily.